Prior to the 1940s, civilian self defense courses virtually were unheard of in many countries in the western world. For instance, in nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other European countries, self defense courses truly were a rarity. Prior to the commencement of hostilities in World War II, self defense courses were rarely seen outside the basic training regimen for youthful soldiers in the armed forces. With the trench warfare of the Great War, military experts and planners recognized the importance of incorporating self defense courses — including modified submission fighting — into the basic training routine.
During the 1940s, civilians were introduced to organized self defense courses in many countries for the first time. Self defense courses of different types began to crop up in cities and towns across North America and Europe as soldiers grappled in the various theaters of war during that same time period. In many instances, the movement towards the implementation of self defense courses arose out of a reasonably held belief on the part of citizens of many countries that they might face hostile forces on their own home territories. Additionally, the hand to hand combat of World War I remained fresh on the minds of many men and women the world over, leading to a natural desire to learn more about self defense courses and techniques.
Due to the obvious fact that significant portions of the adult male population was involved in fighting the Second World War, a notable number of participants in these early self defense courses were women and teenaged boys. (In some communities, teenaged girls could also be found involved in certain types of self defense courses.)
Indeed, as far as educating teenaged boys via self defense courses, many schools — both private and public — initiated self defense courses as part of the overall physical education course. (Again, there were some limited instances when teenaged girls were included in self defense courses. However, during the World War II era, the inclusion of teenaged girls in such activities was exceptional.)
While there were a number of self defense courses that featured the use of hand held firearms in the training, these programs actually were few and far between. (Of course, later in the 20th century, handgun training courses were prevalent in many countries around the world, particularly in the United States.)
Most self defense courses that were implemented during the decade of the 1940s centered on techniques common to the martial arts and associated with submission fighting. In other words, participants in these early self defense courses were taught what essentially amounted to martial arts styled hand to hand combat.